Chapter Eight of Drive-thru
“This place depresses me.” Jude sighed.
We were at Walmart. There was one week left of class and our Chemistry teacher had offered extra credit to build a bridge of toothpicks. It was a lot of extra credit, too, fifty points, half of what a test was worth. The sturdiest bridge in each class would earn an extra twenty-five points on top of that. I had a B in the class but wanted an A-. It was possible, but hardly. We were determined to build the best bridge we could.
“If I see my mom, I am running out.”
I had begged to stay in the car but Jude said no on the basis that she worked in the section for gardening. “Plants are gay,” he had said. “Besides, this could be a good chance for exposure therapy.” I told him that plants were bee-sexual because I hadn’t heard of exposure therapy. I pulled up a picture of my mom from my phone so he could alert me if there was a sighting. I trailed two steps behind him the whole way in.
In the seasoning isle I whipped my head from shoulder to shoulder, anxious for Jude to hurry up. “Toothpicks are toothpicks,” I insisted, enraged by the fact that there were options. A gargantuan woman’s pilly, pink blouse brushed against me as she pushed a cart filled with Hamburger Helper and cookie dough. There was no distinction between her thighs and her knees. Every part of her bled into the next. She looked like a pale streak of paint. She wiped her brow and smoothed her hair back compulsively. The sweat of her forehead reflected the fluorescent lights overhead.
“Do they still do free cookies?” I asked.
“Um yeah, I think, if you’re a kid.”
“We’re in high school. That’s basically still being kids. I mean, at least to these people.”
It was true that most of the Walmart employees looked old. I couldn’t tell if they were actually old or just poorly aged. Everyone looked like they were made of the same pale beige clay, folds of it melting down their bones with deep-set creases. I was spooked by multiple blue-shirted beasts, as all of the short ones resembled my mom.
“Actually, I don’t want any cookies,” I said, “Too many calories. I want a salad.”
Jude rolled his eyes. “Fine, we can go.”
He settled on a box of toothpicks that looked like the rest then led me to the self-checkout lane.
“Why here?” I asked. I had never done self-checkout before and felt intimidated by the process.
“Um, because we have one item and I don’t want to deal with these people?”
Jude scanned the barcode on the superglue, and an alert appeared on the screen. A woman wearing a blue denim vest approached our register. Her hair was short, permed, and dyed a sickly blonde. I imagined how much dust must have lived between those curls. I imagined myself pulling one out straight, a plume of dirt particles rising into the air. The skin between her upper lip and nose looked like a miniature rake had brushed over it every morning for the past sixty years. Her lipstick was dried blood red, a chunk of it stuck to one of her front teeth.
“Good afternoon. Can I see both of your IDs?”
She reminded me of my mom in ten years and me if I stayed. I hated her. I wanted to knock her teeth in like bowling pins, watch them bounce out onto the tile floor.
“Sure.” Jude reached into the pocket of his shorts. He handed the woman his non-driver ID card. She scanned it with her eyes.
“Okay, and you?”
“Fuck,” I said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to curse. I just…I don’t think I have it.”
The woman’s cracked lips straightened out into a flat line.
“I’m sorry,” she croaked, “But you need your ID for this item.”
“It’s superglue,” Jude said, “For a class project.”
“Yeah. I just really need to see some form of ID. I’m sorry.”
“Why do you need an ID to buy superglue?”
The woman shrugged. “I think people snort it? Or get high?”
She stuck her hand out and Jude gave her the superglue. She apologized again and walked away.
“So fucking dumb,” he said, “I can’t risk my six dollars an hour! I need my crystal meth!” he continued in a shrill voice that anyone in earshot could hear.
I burst out laughing but felt bad about it. “Jesus,” I said, slapping his arm. “Calm down it’s just her job.”
Jude wasn’t convinced. “It’s just annoying. Now we have to go to Target. You just stay in the car this time. Also, why are you driving around without an ID?”
“Good question. I don’t even know where it is.”
“No you’re unbelievable.”
I looked at Jude in the passenger seat of my car and felt a surprising surge of emotions. His eyes looked suddenly bright. I noticed that there were yellow rings around his pupils. He had freckles all over the bridge of his nose. They looked like wet paint flicked from the tip of a paintbrush: accidental but artistic all the same. For the first time since I had known him, he looked cute. It made me happy to see him all flustered. I didn’t know what to do, so I gave him a noogie.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he asked, grabbing my wrist.
I smiled uncontrollably like an idiot.
“Oh my God,” he said, “You’re out of your mind. Let’s get you that salad.”
The scent of fresh-baked bread filled the Panera parking lot. Jude ordered a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a chocolate chip cookie and milk and I ordered a spring salad with poppy seed dressing.
“Ew,” Jude said, pointing at my salad, “repulsive.”
“You literally ordered a kid’s meal.”
“Yeah, and it’s gonna taste great.”
I grabbed the buzzer and found a nice booth in the corner. I grabbed a napkin and wiped off some crumbs of bread.
“You know, we could just sit at a clean table.”
“Oh no, it’s no big deal.”
“You’re not at work.”
I sighed as I scraped down the booth seat, too. A splash of broccoli cheddar soup had hardened like yellow paint.
“Oh my god this is embarrassing,” Jude laughed.
I dipped my fingers in my water cup and flicked it at his shirt.
“You gonna wipe that up too?”
As soon as we sat down, the buzzer went off. Jude grabbed it and walked off toward the pick-up counter. I looked around the cafe and noticed how empty it was. I pressed the pearl of my BlackBerry and saw that it was 4:00pm. Dismissal time for last period had gradually become earlier and earlier as our school district focused more on prioritizing sports. Jude returned walking like a deranged scarecrow with a kid’s meal and a salad on his tray.
“Thanks for the help.”
I flipped over the dressing packet and read the nutritional facts. Twenty-five calories. Not bad. I tore the plastic and squeezed the entire packet onto the dark green iceberg lettuce. I wondered if it had been dyed.
“So, I decided to enroll at Missouri S&T,” he said, puncturing the foil of his milk box with the bendable straw.
It didn’t make sense to me that Jude was enrolling in-state when he was an actual genius. He got into the gifted program with an IQ of 154.
“Yeah, well, it’s a full ride. They automatically give you a full-ride if your ACT score is a perfect 36.”
“What? There’s no way that’s true. What if your grades suck or you can’t write a cover letter?”
He shrugged. We both knew his cover letter probably sucked.
“I don’t know that’s what I heard. And that’s what they offered me, so.”
I felt annoyed that he was getting a full-ride when he didn’t even need it. I thought privilege breeds more privilege but didn’t say anything. I tossed my salad around with the black plastic fork, attempting to get each leaf of lettuce wet. The pecans crumbled on top reminded me of when I got pecans stuck in my gums after my wisdom teeth had been taken out, how it had given me “dry socket.”
“I think I’m gonna go to UIC,” I said.
“They got back to you about financial aid?”
I glared at him.
“No. But FAFSA said I’ll probably get the most grants possible because my mom only makes like 25k.”
“Yeah. Besides, I got some stock money now. Just gotta be careful not to blow it before I get there.”
“So long as you don’t find a clothing sale at a retirement home or walk into a health food store, you should be fine.”
I flicked my wadded-up straw wrapper and got him right in his freckled little privileged nose.